We started the day off with some breakfast, scrambled eggs, toast with pineapple marmalade, and tea. After that, we loaded up the bus and left for downtown Port of Spain with our tour guide Chery-ann. Along with being the host of the main celebration of Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago, Port of Spain also hosts one of the largest celebrations of emancipation in the Western hemisphere in the month of August.
We learned that alongside the history we had learned the previous day about East Indians as indentured servants in Trinidad and Tobago, East Indians also came from Guyana where after their indentured servitude they were forced to travel to Trinidad in order to leave. It was upon finding such a rife population of other East Indians that many chose to settle. It was also during this tour that we learned that a hurricane that hit Trinidad and Tobago, which is not in the regular hurricane area of the Caribbean, also took out hundreds of British and French ships during the American revolutionary war, killing tens of thousands of soldiers sent to squelch the revolution.
Most of Port of Spain is built on what were previously mud flats, but ‘reclamation work’ was done to create more land. Due to this reclamation work, there is a lighthouse in the middle of the main highway because it used to be an island.
Agriculture was very important for a very long time, Trinidad and Tobago was the largest exporter of cacao when it was the hottest commodity, similar to oil today. Many Trinidadians left agriculture during WWI and WWII because America offered more money to build military bases than they could make in agriculture.
Getting around: there are lots of buses to help you get around Trinidad, but very few go into Port of Spain. Instead, you walk from the bus terminal into Port of Spain where you can either go to the harbor and take a water taxi from Port of Spain to San Fernando, the other major city in Trinidad, or you can catch a taxi which will drive you around Port of Spain. Taxis in Port of Spain don’t leave until every seat is paid for, so you either pay for any extra seats or you wait until someone else fills them and you share the taxi. Femme de Chalet is a food court next to the port that promises delicious food and very large portions for a good price. From the port, you can see the Paria mountains of Venezuela, ten miles from the Trinidadian shore. The government building next to the waterfront boasts gorgeous works of art along one wall telling the history of Trinidad and Tobago through the artwork, from the native peoples to today.
Other interesting architectural works in Port of Spain: the parliament building was painted red in celebration of Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee and, despite having been rebuilt on two occasions, is still bright red to this day. The jail was built in 1812 with walls of cow poop that still stand, and who says there’s no power in bullshit?
Some other things to do in the area: the Royal Victorian Institute is a free government museum, you can request to see the collection of paintings kept in the attic. You could also visit the National Academy for the Performing Arts, which looks very similar to the Sydney Opera House but smaller. Many of the older homes are open for tours. Or, you could do as we did and visit the Botanical Gardens which boast plants from all over the world. It is the second oldest garden in the Caribbean and features more than 700 species of plants. The Bloodwood tree has sap the color of blood and when the lumber was transported out of Bloody Bay it turned the water a deep red giving it it’s color. The sap was also used to mimic a woman losing her virginity on her marital sheets if she wasn’t a virgin.
I highly recommend stopping at the Lady Young Lookout, named for a governor’s wife who would hike the treacherous hill in order to paint the view below. Besides the view, you can also find Pholouri, fried dough balls with a delicious sweet and spicy curry that is to die for, and the best Jamaican Jerk outside of Jamaica.
After that, we visited a pottery factory in an area off the highway that was dominated by the East Indian ethnicity. The pottery making was an ancient practice that had been passed down for generations and so the family running the factory had been making pottery for hundreds of years. Most of the pieces were unpainted and had a red-orange tint. I purchased something small for $20TT with plans to dip-paint it white and accent it with Indian-inspired mandala designs in gold.
We ate a late lunch at Hi-way Roti, a quick but delicious pit stop. The kind of Roti we had is known as Parratah Roti, or locally as Bussop Shot. It is a doughy flatbread, similar to a savory pie dough with pockets of air and a flaky texture, and a filling of split peas and some kind of meat curried. I tried goat and decided it was not a new favorite meat, the goat here tasted too gamey, and this one reminded me vaguely of shoes. From tasting other peoples, the shrimp or chicken are quite good.
We visited the Temple in the Sea Hindu temple, which is a testament to Siewdass Sadhu’s love of Hinduism. After being denied land to build his beloved temple. Over the course of 25 years, Sadhu took buckets of dirt into the Gulf on the mudflats and reclaimed land from the sea. On that land he built his temple which had to be repaired after a storm destroyed the original.
After that, we stopped in at the Indian Caribbean Museum, a free museum featuring artifacts and historical documents telling about Hinduism, and the history of East Indians in Trinidad and Tobago. It included an art gallery and a life size replica of the kind of house built by the Indians when they were indentured servants.
The last stop of our tour was at Sri Dattatreya Yoga Centre. This religious space boasts the largest Hanuman Murti statue of India, standing at 85 feet tall. The buildings are all a dusty pink, though the entrance to both the statue area and the main building are decorated with colorful mandalas and other symbols of Hinduism. The space of the inside is massive with several shrines to various gods.
Following this, we went back to the guest house and ate dinner before sharing a performance with Malek, a community performing arts group that visited PLU in the Spring of last year. The group had a choreographed dance performance telling the history of Trinidad, from the first peoples through each ethnicity that has migrated onto the islands, and then sang the national song while everyone danced together as a reflection of the country as it is today. Following this performance they demonstrated stick fighting and pulled us into a mock version of the action. We probably looked quite strange, waving a stick around, but it was quite a bit of fun. After that, they performed limbo for us, and had us try it on the highest setting. After we all had our fun pretending we knew what we were doing they actually began the performance, ending with the stick ablaze on the lowest setting, perhaps a couple inches higher than a car off of the ground, which one woman descended under. It was very impressive. We spent the rest of the night dancing and socializing before returning to the guest house for a good night’s rest.
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